With Dale Ratzlaff
We pick up our study with another look at Romans 3:21-26.
21 But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; 3 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; 25 whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; 26 for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
Rom. 3:23 “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
“Have sinned” is in the aorist tense. It signals a sin of finality. There is no changing the fact that we are all sinners through and through. “Fall short” is in the present tense indicating durative, continuing action. We all continue to fall short of God’s glory. This fact alone shows that we can never trust the righteousness of the law and/or our personal righteousness because we always fall short of perfection. What Paul means here by “God’s glory” is intriguing. It cannot be the future glory of heaven and it probably does not mean the glory that Adam and Eve had before sin. Paul uses the word “glory” about 65 times in his letters. And I think what he means here by “glory” is similar to his use of this word in 2 Corinthians 3:18:
But we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.
Here “glory” seems to be the goal of our transformation. One could say that it is imparted righteousness or character development. If this is his meaning, then Romans 2:23 could read like this:
“For all have sinned in the past and we all continue to fall short of internal righteousness which is a reflection of God’s perfection.”
Transitioning Adventists need realignment here as well:
Ellen White said “Human beings may in this life attain to perfection of character” (Acts of Apostles, p. 531).
“Perfection of character is attainable by everyone who strives for it” (Selected Messages Book 1, p. 212).
However, Romans 3:23 is clear: “We all continue to fall short of God’s glory.” That fact does not mean that we are not progressing in the area of personal sanctification. The method of sanctification, however, is not through law, but through gazing at the glory of God, understanding who we are “in Christ”.
If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us (1 Jn. 1:8).
Romans 3 23 is short and to the point. It says two things: (1) We have all sinned in the past, and (2) We all continue to fall short of God’s ideal.
We now come to the heart of the gospel in Romans 3:24.
One day after church we decided to go for a ride up to the foothills east of Casa Grande. We drove up to the Ray Copper mine, a huge open pit mine in operation. We could look down into the mammoth pit with sloping, terraced sides. It looked like they had removed a whole mountain. The bottom was so far away from the lookout where we were standing that the trucks hauling the copper ore looked like little Tonka Toys. However, as we were reading all the information posted on several signs, we found out that those little trucks were actually huge trucks with tires 11 ft. high. One truck could carry 320 tons of ore!
Such is the text before us. We will only study the first part in this lesson. We will save the dessert—redemption—for the next!
Rom. 3:24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.
Justification is a legal word from the metaphor of court proceedings. It means two things. (1) It means not guilty, or acquittal of the charges. (2) It also means declared or pronounced righteous. Justification does not mean to make righteous. It is necessary to be able to prove this fact from Scripture, however. I have received dozens, if not hundreds of emails, from people using Romans 2:13 to prove that only those who keep the law will be justified. This argument reflects internal, human righteousness—an obedience to law that Paul has clearly excluded. Here is the verse:
Romans 2:13: “for it is not the hearers of the Law who are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified.”
What Paul is stating here is that if one relies on law, then one must keep all the law perfectly—but not one Jew or anyone else has ever kept the law. In the scheme of Romans, which is a very tightly outlined book, Romans 2 is not designed to show how one is right with God; rather Paul is carefully laying out the evidence that all of us are under sin and there is no one who is righteous. There is no one who keeps the law, and if there were, law-keeping is not the way to achieve the righteousness of God. Just a few verses later, in Romans 3:20, Paul writes: “because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin”. One of the most important rules of Bible interpretation is to understand the context, and those who use this verse to prove that the doers of the law will be justified have violated that principle.
I was watching TV when the verdict of the court was read to Casey Anthony. Tears came to my eyes when I realized the parallel of that verdict to the declaration of justification. Most of us believed Casey was guilty of killing little Caylee. But when the jury found her not guilty, the judge said, “The court finds you not guilty.” It did not matter whether or not she was guilty, the declaration of the court stands!
The good news of the new covenant gospel is that if we have responded to God’s free gift and placed our faith in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ we are acquitted of all sin. The Supreme Court of the universe has given the verdict: we are justified, we are declared righteous with the very righteousness of God. Don’t let anyone try to take that verdict away from you! Later in Chapter 8 Paul will write, “Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies” (Rom.8:33).
Justifications by faith is the centerpiece of the gospel. In human terms, being justified before God is like winning the lottery. Things which we have always wanted, strived for, prayed for and wished for but could not afford are now ours for the taking.
Every now and then there is a recurring TV commercial. It shows some new gadget that really looks like something that would be useful. The presentation makes you want it. “This is a $79.00 value for only 19.95.” Then the announcer will say, “But wait, if you purchase today we will include—then he throws in two or three additional things. All this, he says, for only $19.95. “But wait, order today and we will double your order for no additional cost!” Well Justification by faith is better than that. Picture that big ore truck I mentioned earlier. It is able to hall 320 tons loaded with the benefits of Justification by faith.
Do you want to be assured of eternal life? “He who believes has eternal life” (Jn. 6:47 It is included with justification!
Do you want peace with God? “Therefore, having been justified we have peace with God” (Rom 5:1). Christ included that, too.
Would like to be dead to sin? “Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 6:11).
Do you want to be released from the arm of the law? “But now we have been released from the law” (Rom. 7:6). That is much better than that old Monopoly “get out of jail free” card!
Are you living under continual condemnation, trying to be good enough and it is no fun? “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:1). Yes, this is in the truck as well.
Are you waiting for the sealing of the Holy Spirit? “Having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise.” (Eph. 1:13). If you are justified, you are sealed!
Are you tired of trying hard to live a holy life? “It is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phi. 2:13). This is also one of the benefits of justification.
How about cashing in on Christ’s inheritance? Wow, wouldn’t that be great! “Giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light” (Col. 1:12). Please note that “has qualified” is aorist tense. It happened the moment we believed and were justified. We don’t work for it; we claim it as our right as justified believers.
Do you ever feel weak? “The Spirit also helps our weakness” (Rom. 8:26). Believe me, if this were not true, I would not be here today!
How are in your prayer life? “We do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us” (Rom. 8:26). Thank God for this blessing of justification.
Would you like to get the concept of predestination on your side? “He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself” (Eph.1:5). Do you understand what that really means? God is on our side working for our eternal good.
Would you like God to come and live with you? Well if you commit your life to him today, He will!
John 14: 23 says, “If anyone loves Me he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him, and make Our abode with him “(Jn. 14:23).
I invite you, yes, I implore you, be reconciled to God. What we have studied in these verses is the pure, new covenant gospel. Will you accept its simplicity? Will you come to the foot of the cross, admit you are a sinner, and accept the free gift of God’s grace in Christ Jesus? If you do, then you can rely on the promise that the Holy Spirit will guide you into all truth. You will hear a voice behind you saying, this is the way, walk you in it. Yes, and you will be the recipient of the truck load of blessings that come all wrapped in justification by faith!
Father, the more I understand what you have done for me, the more I want to be like you. Help me focus on the good news of what Jesus did for me on that fateful and wonderful day when Jesus cried out, “It is done!” Thank You for acquitting me from all guilt. Thank you for declaring me righteous with the perfect righteousness of Christ!
In Jesus name.